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Sotheby's to offer African & Oceanic Art from the Françoise et Jean Corlay Collection
A Yoruba Masterpiece from the Mina & Samir Borro Collection (estimate on request). Photo: Sotheby's.

PARIS.- Some fifty objects from the Françoise & Jean Corlay Collection of African Art (primarily from Congo) will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s Paris on June 18. The collection will be accompanied by 70 works of varied provenance, based on the themes of 'master carvers' and rediscovered masterpieces from Africa and Oceania.

Françoise and Jean Corlay began their collection in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they lived from 1978-84. Their assured eye was evident from their earliest acquisitions, which took the form of remarkable miniature works. From 1986-91 they were based in Nigeria, expanding their interests to include the art of West Africa, then pursued their collection back in Europe, buying from leading collectors and dealers. In 2007 they donated an ensemble of objects and textiles from Nigeria to the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and the Musée d'Angoulême in south-west France. Although works from their collection have been published in books and presented in exhibitions of African Art over the last 30 years, their ownership has hitherto remained confidential. This ensemble reveals the coherent nature of a collection begun nearly forty years ago.

The collection stands out for its extraordinary variety of forms, offering a contrast between perfectly selected 'miniature' pieces and monumental works in a variety of styles (some of them extremely rare), all exuding different forms of beauty and ranging from traditional figures to powerful fetishes.

An exceptional ensemble of seven magico-religious Songye Mankishi figures form the heart of the collection's Congolese sculpture, led by a Songye janiform fetish figure with oily patina, formerly in the Ernst & Ruth Anspach Collection, whose remarkable design concentrates all 'the energies of Songye magic forces,' as François Neyt puts it (est. €350,000-500,000/$460,000-658,000)*.

The Corlays' audacious taste is also reflected by the presence in their collection of some pieces in very rare styles. From 1982-84, while they were living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they acquired several works from the Ubangui Region at a time when this art was little known and far less sought-after than it is today. Works from West Africa – Dogon figures from Mali, and above all objects from Nigeria – entered their collection later.

These are of note for their rarity and aesthetic power. The most striking example is an Idoma figure in keeping with the traditional of large female effigies combining force and dignity. This rare lineage figure is related to the seated figure in the Musée du Quai Branly, and counts as one of the oldest examples of large-scale Idoma carving (est. €80,000-120,000/$105,000-158,000).

The section devoted to works of varied private provenance is again highly selective, its 70 items offering an evenly spread panorama of the leading styles of African and Oceanic Art, with several masterpieces reflecting the individuality of the most gifted master-carvers.

The sale's superb, 19th century Ifa Agere divining cup, made by a Yoruba master-carver from the Egbado/Egba region, has been published and exhibited on several occasions, and can be considered a veritable icon of African Art. The care and skill lavished on each detail of this masterpiece bear the hallmark of a technical and artistic genius. This Ifa Agere has a rare royal iconography and was formerly in the Mina & Samir Borro Collection for nearly 50 years (estimate on request).

An exceptional head-rest, collected by Captain F. Vandevelde before 1891, constitutes a Songye rediscovery. It was the first Songye work to be published, and once owned by J.H.W. Verschure; its pendant, carved by the same hand, is now in the Louvre (est. €120,000-180,000/$158,000-237,000).

A rare female figure attributed to the Master of Ogol is one of seventeen works assigned to this great Dogon artist, active at some stage between 1750-1840. All have sober geometric forms and exceptionally dynamic lines, and show standing females with their hands clasped in front of their abdomen (est. €90,000-130,000/$118,000-171,000).

A pair of Senufo figures from Ivory Coast are remarkable for their rarity, age, history and cultural importance. Just three other of these 'Primordial Couples' are known, including the one from the former Frieda & Milton Rosenthal Collection. All the figures were once owned by Charles Ratton, then sold individually before being re-united by the collectors Nathalie Chaboche and Guy Porré a few years ago (est. €200,000-300,000/$263,000-395,000).

Sotheby’s will also be offering a rare ensemble of ivories from Nigeria and Congo, including a Yoruba rider (est. €150,000-200,000/$197,000-263,000) and a Kongo-Vili charm (est. €30,000-50,000/$39,000-66,000).

Another sale rediscovery concerns 15th century stone carvings from Sierra Leone, represented by three remarkable works: an impressive Sapi head (est. €70,000-100,000/$92,000-131,000); a Sapi dignitary figure (est. €30,000-50,000/$39,000-66,000); and a Sherbo rider (est. €20,000-25,000/$26,000-33,000).

A highlight of the Oceanic Art section is a Samban hook figure from the former André Fourquet Collection. Its size and plastic quality make this one of the most striking examples of Iatmul art, with close similarities to the female example from the former Barbier-Mueller Collection – widely considered an Iatmul masterpiece – now to be found in the Musée du Quai Branly (est. €100,000-150,000/$131,000-197,000).

* estimates do not include buyer's premium

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